by July 16, 2006 0 comments



E-mail, contact information, calendar schedules, notes and tasks are all part
of your enterprise’s knowledge base and are more efficiently used when shared
amongst users working on the same project or for the same client. And, it is not
necessary to share all the information either. Enterprise class messaging
servers (such as Domino or Exchange), let you create ‘public’ folders that
everyone with an account on that server can access and use. But, what if you use
an external service provider for your messaging needs and still want to be able
to share such information? This is where products like WorkgroupShare come in
handy. It is recommended for scenarios where people frequently use clients such
as Outlook and Eudora but do not require an expensive messaging solution like
Exchange or Domino (let’s say they are using a vanilla Linux mail server or
the default POP3/SMTP servers in Windows). So, they have all the ‘workgroup’
functionality at the desktop level. This way they can share this information
with each other easily without requiring costly software.

Direct
Hit!
Applies
to:
IT managers
USP:
Let users access each others’ contact and schedule information with a centralized database on your LAN
Links:
http://www.softalkltd.com/products/workgroupshare  
Google
keywords:
workgroup share outlook

Pre-requisites
WorkgroupShare can be installed on any kind of a system, be it a workstation or
desktop, and it works through a database (either Access or SQL Server). Do note
that SQL Server or MSDE versions do not ship with the product and you need to
have these installed separately. You let it run by itself or integrate it with
an Active Directory, or even run it in a mixed environment with both. All your
users need not be within your firewall. They can be anywhere as long as you open
five ports in your firewall, both TCP and UDP. The product is priced according
to the number of licenses (users) you require. For a 100 users license, it will
cost USD 1,795 (that’s about INR 82.6 K). When using this software, we found
two small ‘missing’ features. One, it does not integrate the shared
calendars with your own when you’re looking at the calendar in Outlook. This
may be good or bad depending on whether you’re looking at the added
convenience if this could be done and the confusion that might result if it were
there. Two, there was no way to select a subset of contacts or e-mail without
having to share out an entire folder. As of now, if you want to share a set of
data, put them into a folder that’s completely separate from the folders you
don’t want to share.

You can look at and make changes, if permitted by the Administrator, to other people’s shared items

Configuration
The application comes as a server/client package. The file you download is the
server application. Once you set that up, you must launch the Administrator
module to add users and folders. To make management easier, remember to create
groups of those users from the Groups sub-tree. There is actually no need to
create a ‘Public Folder’ if you are not planning to have your users move
shared information to these folders.
If you do create such public folders, they will appear directly under the ‘Shared
Information’ tree node.

The final bit of configuration (optional, since default settings are fine) is
in the Settings box-you can get there by double-clicking on the
Settings node and setting up the following:

Synchronization: The more frequent, the more the load on your
bandwidth. The first sync operation is a full copy, but after that clients will
synchronize only incrementally.

Server: On this tab, set up if you want to use secure ports. Select
the secure option if your users will access it from the outside.

Advanced: The parameters on this tab govern what happens to file
attachments in e-mail and appointment information. Both these may cause
duplication of information on your WorkgroupShare server.To have WorkgroupShare
authenticate users against the Active Directory domain you have, right-click
each such user under the User folder and select ‘Associate with Active
Directory User’. To disengage, right-click later and select
‘Unassociate with Active Directory User’. There is nothing further to be
done in that direction. 

On the server administrator console, after a client has synced up, you can view a list of folders to set up access permissions for other users 

Even if you have more than one ADS domain in your network, WorkgroupShare
server automatically selects the domain/LDAP directory that the user ID is on
and even attempts to decipher your user account and pre-select it on the next
screen. Make sure that before attempting this operation you are logged on to the
current system or the ADS domain (somehow) using a ‘Domain Administrator’
account. Otherwise, you will be denied
access to ADS.

Firewall ports to open (server and client)
For TCP
    8100: WorkgroupShare (Non-SSL)
    8101: WorkgroupShare (SSL)
    8109: Free/Busy
For UDP
    8102 & 8104: WorkgroupShare (Monitor)

The WorkgroupShare server machine has a new shared folder called ‘WorkgroupShare
Client Setup’. For every workstation that you want to use it on, you need to
shut down Outlook if it is running and then start ‘ClientSetup.exe’ from
this shared folder. There is nothing to configure on the client. 

Points to remember

  • It works through either Jet/MS Access
    or SQL Server. The JET engine to create and use MDBs is usually
    provided. However, if you select SQL Server, you need to get and
    install the DB server separately.
  • The software requires about 5 ports to
    be opened on your server and client firewalls for communication.
  • Select the secure sockets option if
    you have users outside your corporate firewall.
  • The software will send the first
    e-mail ID you enter (in the installation screens) back to Softalk. The
    final installation screen reads: ‘For marketing purposes a message
    will be sent to confirm your successful installation’. Therefore,
    enter your generic but valid external email address (for eg, feedback@mycompany.com).

Using it
When you fire up Outlook for the first time after running the setup on the
client system, it will trigger a dialog to let you synchronize your data with
the WorkgroupShare server. Here, you can select what folders to export as well.
It will take a bit of time to export the first time if you have a lot of data to
transfer. Subsequently, you can get Outlook to sync up by going to
Tools>Share>’Synchronize with WorkgroupShare’.

To change login information (WorkgroupShare server), or to reselect your
folders, select the Settings option from the Tools>Share menu.You can view
other people’s calendars and other information by going into the ‘Shared
Information’ folder in the Outlook folder list view. You can enable this view
from View>Folder List or by clicking the closed-folder icon from the list of
icons at the bottom. If you have been provided access to do so, you can also
edit or add items to other peoples’ schedules and contacts. To avoid this,
give the correct permissions for each folder on the WorkgroupShare server, after
the client has synced up at least once. The default is ‘Read/Create/Edit/Delete’
which gives other users full access to that folder.

The price tag of 83K (for a 100 user license) is quite a lot, given that you
could have a proper messaging server (WorkgroupShare does not feature any
messaging capabilities) running that would provide you with these facilities.
You would get better value for money elsewhere.

Sujay V Sarma

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